Customers of the East Bay's largest water district could see 6 percent rate increases this summer and again next year under a plan that would ratchet up rates nearly one-third higher than they were two years ago.
The East Bay Municipal Utility District's 1.4 million customers began receiving notices about the proposed rate hikes this week. A public hearing and vote is scheduled June 14.
The hikes, which are a full 1 percent higher than the district anticipated in its last budget, follow 7.5 percent and 8.7 percent increases during the past two years.
Customers conserving water are driving the rate increases, the district said.
They have been using about 15 percent less water since 2008, so the district has to charge more to cover its costs.
And some of those costs are rising. Health care and retirement benefit costs are expected to be about $5.2 million more than budgeted, while fuel costs and the costs of chemicals used in the district's plants are rising, according to the district.
In addition, said district spokesman Charles Hardy, the district has begun paying for some major recent projects, including a water main through Walnut Creek and the nearly $1 billion Freeport intake on the Sacramento River that the district shares with Sacramento.
"Definitely there's higher debt service," Hardy said.
He said the district has left about 200 jobs unfilled and is continuing a hiring freeze.
The unions representing the district's workers have agreed to forgo raises for the next two years, though all employees will get a $500 lump sum payment in 2012 at a cost of about $900,000, according to a staff report.
If approved, the rate increase would take effect July 1.